A mum has told how her “baby saved her life” after a grapefruit-sized rare cancer was spotted during a pre-natal scan.
Rachel Bailey, 28, had no idea she had a mass on her kidney until she went in for a baby check-up at 21 weeks pregnant.
While her baby was healthy, the scan revealed a previously undetected 6cm tumour, which medics said might not otherwise have been found in time.
And just weeks after she’d given birth to baby daughter Phoenix, weighing 4lb 4oz, she underwent robotic surgery to remove the tumour and part of her kidney.
Keen to breastfeed Phoenix around the surgery, Rachel was able to have the procedure and be back home for cuddles just 25 hours after being admitted to hospital.
Dog walker Rachel, from Southwark in south London, said: “I’m very lucky I was pregnant, otherwise I wouldn’t have known about the tumour.
“I have always wanted a family and I waited so long to get pregnant.
“Phoenix has been a blessing.
“Without Phoenix, the midwives, Ben and the urology team, this experience would have been a lot more stressful.
“With them fighting my corner, I didn’t feel like I was doing this on my own.”
Mr Ben Challacombe, the consultant urological surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust who operated on Rachel, said: “Rachel’s situation is rare.
“I have done over 1,000 robot kidney operations and only had one other similar case.
“If Rachel hadn’t been pregnant, her tumour may not have been spotted until later when the outcome could have been different. It may be that her baby saved her life.”
Rachel was 21 weeks pregnant when she started bleeding and went to St Thomas’ Hospital for an emergency check-up, in January this year.
An MRI and biopsy showed the tumour was malignant, but caught in the early stages and likely to be slow-growing.
Doctors suggested Rachel complete her pregnancy but be induced early to allow surgery.
But when lockdown was enforced in late March, Rachel’s induction and surgery were cancelled.
The baby started measuring small so the midwife team at St Thomas’ decided she needed to be induced at 38 weeks.
It was as midwives were about to induce Rachel they realised she was already in labour and little Phoenix was born naturally.
Rachel said: “Suddenly everything was back on again and it was a rollercoaster of emotions, but I tried not to stress out my baby.
“I had been doing hypnobirthing and pregnancy yoga so I understood the importance of trying to keep relaxed.
“I was really trying to encourage my baby to come naturally, and I would talk to her all the time.
“When the time came for my induction, I had to go in by myself because of Covid [restrictions], but the midwives were all lovely.”
Mr Challacombe, clinical robotic surgery lead at Guy’s and St Thomas’, then arranged for Rachel to have her tumour removed as soon as possible after her baby was born, following two weeks of self-isolation.
The procedure was a collaboration with Guy’s and St Thomas’ and HCA’s London Bridge Hospital.
During lockdown, the centre was kept as a Covid-free site, to treat around 800 NHS cancer patients in a safe environment.
Rachel had key-hole surgery on HCA’s facilities at Guy’s using the da Vinci Xi robot the following day to remove her tumour, which had grown 3cm since first being spotted.
Rachel said: “After the birth, the worry about the surgery set in.
“I had to leave Phoenix, and I had always wanted to breastfeed, but she wasn’t allowed to come into the hospital with me.
“I had just given birth and was trying to recover, and then I was desperately trying to breastfeed and express milk for her.
“As she was so tiny, she needed to be with me.”
Mr Challacombe added: “It was a very complicated operation as the tumour had grown much bigger than you would have expected in that time.
“It was one of the biggest partial removals I have done without removing the whole kidney.
“We wanted to avoid that, as it would cause a bigger scar, more pain, and mean a slower recovery for Rachel.
“We knew she wanted to be with her baby so we did everything we could to get her home as soon as possible.
“It’s been a very positive outcome for Rachel and she and Phoenix are doing really well
Doctors will keep a close eye on Rachel in the coming months and years, but they are confident they removed all of the 9cm tumour and she doesn’t need radiotherapy or chemotherapy.